Build Your Business:

Use Bling to Boost Margins

March 7, 2016

Successful business owners know the importance of adapting their products to stay competitive in an ever-changing market. If you are in the apparel or decal industry, adding rhinestones is an attractive, simple and cost-effective option to expand your current business.

Whether your work is in heat-transfer or sign vinyl, sublimation, embroidery, direct-to-garment or screen printing, the addition of rhinestones will offer your customers a trendy, mixed-media look that will boost your shop’s profit margins. This combination of different media types is known as “multi-decoration” (or simply “multi-dec”) and has become a popular approach. Thanks to new production techniques and materials, creating rhinestone multi-dec designs is easier and more affordable than ever.

Choosing Your Method
To add rhinestones to your business, you can buy transfers or make your own. Purchasing hot-fix rhinestone transfers (pre-made rhinestone designs ready for heat application) from a third party is a good option for those who are new to this type of decoration or have large orders with complex designs. However, making your own transfers typically is better. You won’t be dependent on a middleman, and you’ll lower costs and increase profit margin.

You can make your own rhinestone transfers in two ways: by using a rhinestone-setting machine or by creating rhinestone templates with a vinyl cutter. Companies sell rhinestone-setting machines that may range in price from a few thousand to more than $30,000.
Generally, the higher-priced machines work faster, are more accurate and last longer. But they require occasional maintenance and the parts can be expensive. However, these machines will significantly reduce production time, especially for businesses with high-volume orders.

Some business owners may not be able to invest thousands of dollars on a rhinestone-setting machine. The rhinestone template method is an inexpensive and manageable alternative. All you need is a vinyl cutter, template material, rhinestone brush, hot-fix transfer tape and of course, rhinestones.

You can purchase a small arts-and-crafts vinyl cutter, such as the 12-inch Silhouette CAMEO, for about $270. Alternatively, you can purchase a larger 24-inch GCC, Graphtec or Roland cutter for between $1,200 and $2,100. While any of these cutters will work, the pricier options typically come with superior motors, increased speed and downforce, more precise cuts and longer warranties.

The rhinestone template material comes in different widths (9-24 inches) to fit your cutter, with an 11.5″ x 5 yard roll costing about $80. Also, remember that rhinestone templates are reusable. A single 5″ x 9″ template could be used to make one or 1,000 transfers.

The Process
Production begins with a rhinestone vector design. Simply bring the artwork into your cutter’s software and cut the rhinestone pattern into the template material. Think of the template as a stencil for rhinestones.

Next, place your template on a hard, smooth surface. A small 17″ x 23″ dry-erase board works perfectly. Proceed by covering the template with rhinestones and brushing the stones in a circular motion. They will fall into the template right-side up with minimal correction needed. Once the stones are brushed in, place transfer tape on top of the template, smooth it over, then peel off the tape to extract the rhinestones from the template.

Mixing Things Up
Aside from the rhinestone portion of the decoration, remember to also incorporate what you already do. Heat-transfer vinyl (HTV) is an ideal complement to rhinestones since both require the same tools — a cutter, heat press and design software.   

The integration begins with the software. Add-on design programs developed for CorelDRAW or Adobe Illustrator allow you to repurpose your vinyl designs or create new ones with rhinestone fills, borders and embellishments. They often allow you to simulate product mockups, create order forms, and perform a cost analysis of the HTV and rhinestones in your design. Monograms comprised of HTV and rhinestones are a great example of creative multi-dec artwork using design software and represent a growing trend in the industry.

For sign vinyl users, mixing in rhinestones is just as easy. Instead of heat pressing the rhinestones to apparel, simply adhere the stones to clear decal material. This peel-and-stick decal material, once embedded with rhinestones, can be layered on top of sign vinyl. The material’s transparency will guarantee a seamless look, and using it will enable you to decorate car windows, laptops, tumblers or any hard, smooth surface.

Finally, embroiderers can add rhinestone trim to their elegant stitch work, and screen printers can easily customize sleeves and shirt backs with rhinestone text. These are just a few of the things you can do to mix rhinestones into your product lineup.

Matt Vassallo started The Rhinestone World in 2008 after discovering a need for custom rhinestone decals and accessories. After his success making custom items, he expanded the business to include free training, and supplied similar home-grown entrepreneurs the products they needed to get started. For more information or to comment on this article, email Matt at